Alan Kirby, professor of English literature in Oxford, England has written in the latest issue of the magazine Philosophy Now that post modernism is officially dead. Sigh. Finally.
I believe Alan Kirby is correct. In its place comes a new paradigm of authority and knowledge formed under the pressure of new technologies and contemporary social forces. As many already know, post modernism is not a trend in worship styles but is part of a philosophical movement that started in the last century; the central tenet being there is no cohesive narrative in our world because ideas about truth vary from person to person, culture to culture. Bluntly stated, we now recognize the world’s multiplicity.
Although post modernism may be dead, there is also no going back. We still live with an inherent reality to post modernity’s claims. For example, I’m sure when I talk about Jesus Christ as ‘truth’ to my agnostic family; my vocabulary for what is truth differs significantly from theirs.
However, I would argue that currently there is more. There is something deeper that binds us psychically. It is not a shared understanding of truth or a grand meta-narrative (a previous held belief from modernity), rather it is a collective anxiety about the future.
During the last few years, with a global economy that is flailing, extremist religions finding voice, the rise of corporate powers, wars, greater disparities between the rich and the poor, and environmental upheavals, we face our tomorrows not flailing in our fractured ideas about what is true or what is not, but bound by a generalized fear of what will happen to us, whether we locate that anxiety in our retirement accounts, in disagreements about how the government should be run, or in a sudden desire to compost and a penchant toward farmer’s markets.
Instead of sharing any longer a cohesive narrative around truth or arguing from a safe distance the validity of truth claims, we now share a generalized apprehension about the future. My concern is that what is filling this anxiety vacuum is either dogmatism or banality, or both. In fact, we are already witnesses to this dogmatism manifesting itself in everything from politics to religion.
We — in a fight or flight reflex — grasp onto an idea, theory, belief system, or moral certainty so we are not left adrift. Recently, we in the United States have watched this unfold in the budget debates between Congress and the Senate and President. Dogma seemed to outweigh compromise and rational debate.
As to banality, all one needs to do is watch TV. “Reality” TV is not only cheaper to produce but enables a culture that is fascinated with the mundane, with the parade of freak shows that perpetrate our shared sense of being adrift in this world. But isn’t reality TV truly only a caricature of the viewer?
Or, banality finds expression in the barrage of pointless tweets and Facebook messages that clog our time and energy, so that the primary use of the internet and smart phones does not become an effective course for exchanging ideas or an instrument for problem solving, but a means of venting our frustrations with, all too often, the coarsest intentions.
This is not to say I don’t appreciate a little dogma or love the banal. Who among us doesn’t? Really. I pick up the junkiest magazines every time I fly somewhere. But beyond my concerns that dogmatism and banality are a disservice to us, leading to the loss of honest and compassionate discourse, I am concerned that the church will simply jump into this cultural fray instead of offering hope.
My unease is that into all the apprehension we will not preach Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen God, but will join in the intransigent clatter about a particular belief or moral code and call this Christianity. Or that we will only seek to entertain from the pulpit, piling more drivel onto the vast, already insipid, prosaic and too often crude cultural jumble.
But what if this is the time for preachers to put it into high gear and with boldness and confidence proclaim the unnerving, unruly reality of the cross and resurrection? Not as a meta-narrative or sole claim to truth, but as the promise it is, a love that unravels our power structures?
What if this is our time to be prophetic, gently and consistently, calling people back to the strange mercy that emerges from this God who became flesh and whose Spirit lives among us now? To preach this one who never forgets the least of these, bringing about more than an inner calm, and who is also redeeming all things, calling us to enact peace with our neighbors?
Post modernism might be dead, but our God is not. In fact, our God is a God of the living, so much so, that even while our lofty schemes and grand theories come and go, even when countries tumble, even while our earth is warming at an alarming rate, even while we collectively worry because we don’t know what our future will bring, even while the grass withers, and the flower fades, this God, this Word, Jesus Christ, stands forever.
And it is such a counter-cultural Word, such a hope-filled Word, a Word that calls us to die, yet promises resurrection. We proclaim a God who is nothing but life, who lifts us out of the waters with grace, just when we think we’re drowning.